As the holiday season approaches, so do freezing cold temperatures and snowfall in many parts of the country. Winter weather is potentially hazardous for any community, but it can be particularly dangerous for vulnerable residents, including low-income, elderly, and unhoused individuals and families.
Weather storms cause power outages and loss of communication services. Surging gas and electric bills cause financial strain on families. Icy sidewalks result in falls and injuries. Occurrences of flu cases, seasonal colds, and respiratory illnesses increase during the colder months, as does the risk of hypothermia and frostbite from exposure to cold temperatures, freezing rain, and snow. And those dark and dreary winter days can lead to cases of “winter blues,” especially among clients already struggling with depression and/or other mental health issues.
In order to meet the ongoing needs of vulnerable residents, organizations should take precautions now to prepare for upcoming winter-related emergencies.
In the winter, social services are in higher demand
As temperatures drop, the need for social care rises. Organizations should be prepared to help their neighbors with winter-related emergencies and services.
Here are some ideas for winter-specific services:
- Hosting coat and food drives
- Offering snow removal services to elderly residents
- Checking in regularly on housebound or elderly clients, by phone or in-person
- Arranging for hot meals or grocery drop-offs
- Providing potable water in the event of freezing water lines
- Distributing basic home insulation supplies, such as caulk to fix cracks, plastic to cover windows, or materials to wrap exposed pipes
- Providing batteries for smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors
- Opening a drop-in center for warmth and essential goods
In the event of a winter-related emergency, such as a storm that results in power failure, having a “plan B” is critical, especially for chronically ill residents who depend on oxygen machines or other medical devices. Organizations can help by providing emergency cell phones, securing residents’ access to backup generators, or ensuring that the local emergency services department is apprised of the individual’s situation ahead of any power failures.
Collaboration between organizations is essential
During the holiday season and throughout the winter, increased demand for social services and community programming can overwhelm organizations, which are already understaffed and under-resourced. We know support is hard to come by, especially now, but there is an easy solution to expand your service offerings without burdening your staff.
Partnering with community peers, which many organizations and nonprofits do year-round, offers a greater chance of reaching more residents and providing more services. When you collaborate, staff time and resources are leveraged, capacity is increased, program impact is multiplied, and at-risk residents are less likely to fall through the cracks. This also removes the burden on individuals and families who can’t afford to travel back and forth.
At a recent food drive at Matrix Human Services in Detroit, residents were given not only fresh food, meat, milk, and canned goods, but also light bulbs and winter coats. Food is often the greatest need, but it’s not the only need. Expanding the food drive to include essential winter items was a smart way to serve residents who may have needed a winter coat and light bulbs but not sought them out.
Finding winter-specific funding and resources
Funding and resources for winter-related care is often distributed by state or local governments, with some federal funds coming from agencies such as FEMA in the case of a federally declared disaster.
Here are some opportunities for securing more funding:
- The Emergency Food and Shelter Program, created by Congress in 1983, distributes federal funds to local organizations. As of November 2021, Phase 39 and ARPA-R funds were granted to organizations and this funding may extend through April 2023. The money may be spent on food (meals or groceries), hotel or shelter lodging, one month’s rent or mortgage payment, one month’s utility bill, and some equipment necessary for feeding or sheltering people.
- In many places, local and state governments earmark winter storm relief funds, which provide families with emergency funds to pay for temporary housing, heating bills, home repair or weatherization, and food. Organizations can help provide application assistance. For more information, refer to your specific city, county, or state website.
- In many communities, when temperatures drop below 32 degrees, “Code Blue” kicks in. This means that restrictions for homeless shelters and drop-in centers are relaxed, with the goal of providing shelter to anyone who needs it. In New York City, for example, the Department of Homeless Services loosens restrictions during a “Code Blue” in order to provide shelter access for as many people as possible. As part of this emergency system, shelter intake and eligibility procedures are simplified, street outreach teams are increased, and shelters cannot suspend or sanction individuals during these times. If you suspect a “Code Blue” is coming, it’s important to prepare your organization in advance.
- The Department of Energy gives funding to low-income households to increase energy efficiency and reduce energy bills through the Weatherization Assistance Program. The DOE provides grants to states, which then distributes funding to local governments and CBOs. Preference is given to families with children, people over the age of 60, or those with a disability.
At Healthify, powered by WellSky, we’re dedicated to providing social care to vulnerable communities. Our accountable care networks are comprised of social service providers who offer everything from utility assistance to home-delivered meals. We are incredibly grateful for the services they offer and look forward to continuing to support their needs throughout this winter season.